Sunday, April 3, 2016

Middle Grade Monday: Words with Wings (Nikki Grimes)

Words with Wings


Book Jacket Summary
Gabby has been a daydreamer for as long as she can remember, but when her parents began arguing, daydreaming became as essential as breathing.  At first an escape, it’s now taken over her life.  In her new home with only her mother, Gabby misses the way their family used to be.  In her new school, she’s always alone.  The kids see her as Shy Girl Who Lives Insider Her Head and tease her.  Her teacher keeps telling her to pay attention, while her mother scolds her for drifting off.  Will Gabby ever find a way to keep her thoughts grounded?  Or could her daydreams help her take flight?

Sample Poem
“Words with Wings”
Some words
sit still on the page
holding a story steady.
Those words
never get me into trouble.
But other words have wings
that wake my daydreams.
They fly in,
silent as sunrise,
tickle my imagination,
and carry my thoughts away.
I can’t help
but buckle up
for the ride!

Language & Form
Words with Wings is a novella written in poetic form.  The free verse poems are so melodic and beautiful that I found myself reading over many of them multiple times.  I love the imagery she uses like “feel fire on my cheeks, then tears come to smother the flames” (37) and “the trees are whispering” (66). Despite being poetry, the images and words are written for middle graders. I was afraid of poetry until I was an English teacher for several years (still a little afraid). Many of my college students are afraid of poetry. I believe reading books like Words with Wings can help students feel comfortable with poetic language and, hopefully, learn to enjoy it.

Gabby is a sweet protagonist. You will get swept up in her world right away with the story of the origin of her name, her family situation, and her imagination.  Many middle grade readers will identify with her experiences—watching her parent's marriage dissolve, dealing with divorce, moving to a new place, starting a new school, being bullied by peers, and making new friends.  Gabby deals with her feelings of alienation and powerlessness is a positive way—her imagination.  While it does sometimes distract her from accomplishing tasks, she learns how to manage it and use it for good. 

Another important character is her teacher, Mr. Spicer—based on a teacher the author had in school.  For teachers and parents, he can be an inspirational figure.  He values Gabby for her uniqueness and helps her focus her talents properly.  Mr. Spicer also encourages creativity and imagination in his other students.  He is a great reminder to sometimes set aside the “objectives” to accomplish significant learning.

The title Words with Wings sums up the theme of this novella well.  Gabby learns that her words, ideas, and imagination have metaphorical wings. They lead her through darkness and loneliness.  They help her cope with life’s difficulties. They make her who she is.  She does not change to fit it.  Instead, she finds people who appreciate her uniqueness, and she does the same for them in turn.

Young people feel that their clothes, physical appearance, tattoos, piercings, and other superficial things define them, making them who they are.  They feel it is how they “express themselves.”  I reject that idea. I believe your words, your ideas, your imagination, your personality, your talents, and, most importantly, your actions define you, making you who you are.  This book epitomizes that idea for me.  It is an idea worth discussing and challenging students with.

Extension Ideas
  • Journaling:  Like Mr. Spicer, have the class randomly stop everything and daydream.  It simply means, letting the students journal their ideas. Younger children could draw their ideas. They should write/draw without stopping for an age appropriate amount of time.
  • Writing Poetry:  Like many of Gabby’s poems, give the students a word (or allow them to pick a word).  Have them write down a description of it in free verse.  Encourage the age appropriate usages of figurative language like simile, metaphor, personification, understatement, hyperbole, and so forth.
  • Literature Circles:  Pick one or more poems from the book.  Assign the students to small groups to discuss what the poem(s) means.  They can brainstorm the connotations and denotations of key words or discuss why the narrator used specific figurative devices.  Then, discuss how the poem illustrates a key aspect of the novella, such as characterization or theme.  Finally, students can discuss the motifs in each poem, including how they relate to their lives.
  • Character Education:  Discuss as a class what it feels like to be the new person in a school or place. Have the students brainstorm ways to help new people feel welcome and become involved.  Create a class or individual plans to put into action.
For other Marvelous Middle Grade Readers, visit Ramblings of a Wanna Be Scribe.  


  1. I really like the sound of the plot. Thanks for the review!
    - Vi

  2. Great idea for a story and a great method to tell it. Thanks for your thoughts. I'm intrigued and will be looking for this one.

  3. This really sounds like a beautiful book written in verse, my favorite. I like your contrast of someone who is working on healing herself from within as opposed to youth who focus on the physical more tribal approach of tattoos, etc.

  4. Oh, I definitely need to read this! I love novels in verse and need to read more of them. This sounds like a gem. Thanks for telling me about it (and for visiting my blog!).

  5. This one sounds like my next favorite book! Eeeeeep, I can't wait!!! Thanks for the reccomendation.

    (For some reason it won't show my blogger account so I can comment as Sue Kooky) :(

    ~Sue Kooky

  6. Thanks for visiting on Middle Grade Monday. I hope you all enjoy the book!


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